A theory I’ve been shopping around with my friends lately is that being on acid is like being a baby.
Everything is new. Hands are fascinating. The basic concepts of life are hard. What… is… time?
It seems possible people use this experience in order to re-access a childlike wonder and curiosity. A baby is pure and open, la tabula rasa. Us old curmudgeonly folks envy babies’ openness to experiences. Babies have a certain lightness. Maybe that is because they lack a worldview — the imperfect and twisted way they will come to reflect reality. They lack identity — turning inward to see how “I” work is far less interesting to them than turning outward, and exploring how “the world” works. They are fresh unmarked clay balls without a story or a worry. The are free from trauma, attachment, judgement, love, knowledge… They are free from themselves.
Over time, these ‘unsculpted’ clay balls begin rolling around in the world in the name of adventure. They roll forward with conviction, smash epically into hidden walls, turn corners too quickly, and jump valiantly off cliffs. They roll around with their soft underbellies proudly on display, imprinting the world on their souls as they go.
In youth, we explore. We venture out, carving new paths in our brains, constantly rewiring. We live life with the type of reckless abandon thatcreates as much as it destroys. We lose ourselves to new experience, and allow ourselves to be reformed.
I’m perched on a wooden bench, squished between two others, grinning lazily at my friend across from me. She has on a bedazzled baseball hat, fringe bathing suit top, and holographic accessories. We sway, and the boat creaks as the waves crash into its sides with more force than the captain seems prepared for. The energy of my fellow passengers is cool and salty. Excited, but stuck in transition.
Finally arriving at shore, my friends and I scamper over the island with our wobbly sea legs. We join a thousand or so other twenty-somethings that have come on earlier boats. I look around at the sea of dyed hair, tattoos, tutus, and mischievousness, and it slowly dawns on me that the island is entirely ours today. We order a bucket of Coronas and we began to settle in.
I notice a growing crowd standing at the ocean’s edge with waves licking their feet. Their gaze reaches out, as if they are leaning into the sea, trying to see around a bend. A cool reggae beat drums the air. Following it with my ears, I realize what our oceanside friends are up to. The stage is positioned facing out into the water, taunting all of us to come for a swim to hear the music.
We venture out, playfully splashing and diving into the waves, moving deeper into the water to achieve sonic perfection.
Blame the island heat, the beats, or the beer, but we doggy paddled for 20 minutes, watching the show before someone intelligent noticed the giant stack of yellow floating rafts piled up on the beach.
Yellow floaties start pouring into the ocean, each sitting four to six (and a Corona bucket) comfortably. The music is getting rowdier and so is the crowd. All around me, people are attempting to stand on their floaties and “surf.” Someone has the idea of getting in the water and holding two floaties together. A giant mesh network of floaties emerges. As one rocks, it sends waves through the others. People are jumping up and down trying to create the biggest waves in the mesh that they can. The reggae shifts to trap and “surfing” shifts to “ride it like a wild bronco.” Twerk contests are erupting. Then, suddenly, the DJ steps away from his mixer, and dives head first into the mesh network, becoming enveloped in a sea of rubber, sweat, crisp salty ocean water and complete debaucherous freedom.
The sun starts to set and bright red, orange and yellow streaks fill the sky. Beautiful music soars over the ocean, and I realize that we are thousands of miles away from the lives that formed us and the people we were. We are disconnected from ourselves. We are just pieces of this moment, of this special circumstance, of this giant floating civilization.
This exploration of the edges of life is freeing. It’s exciting. It’s limitless. And as we are leaping and fumbling through life, our brains are physically rewiring. Scenes, thoughts and opinions etch themselves into our soft pink matter. Each experience shoots electrical signals through our brains, and as these signals hop from cell to cell, our synapses strengthen and the path they take leaves a physical trace.
One day, we realize that our years of reckless abandon have left their mark. Through all this adventuring, a person and a personality has been created. This person is made out of this complex matrix of patterns, of underdeveloped and overdeveloped neural networks, that we are surprised to find we know very little about. We discover that ignoring ourselves, and trying to change ourselves, is much harder than it used to be.
We live life with the type of reckless abandon that creates as much as it destroys.
And so, our approach to life shifts. We stop trying so hard to lose ourselves in the moment, to rewrite who we are, to toss out the old and become someone new. And we start trying to find ourselves. In doing so, we assert that there is a self to be found. That we are specific, formed, knowable, and distinct. That we have become our own unique clay formation, with crevices and cracks that don’t resemble anyone else’s.
Truthfully, we’ve gotten a bit crusty around the edges. We become less pliable.
I think it’s about 4 A.M. Could be 2. It’s hard to tell — all I know is that it’s dark, I’m freezing and exhausted, and I want some motherfucking soup. The line of people in front of us keeps expanding and contracting in my mind. Ten more people? I swear it was eight a few minutes ago. The guy running the stand is sure taking his time. Talking up every person, striking up a nice looooong conversation. Milking it. Juicing it. Souping it. What, you think the soup line people are going to be your new best friends? They want you for your product, man.
I don’t even know if I’m hungry, but I’m certainly unhappy and, well, getting soup seemed like something to do. We’re killing time till sunrise anyway. This thought suddenly reminds me that I’m not alone and I turn to the bunny next to me. The look on his face after he saw the look on mine shows me that he’s not too pleased about the situation either.
“Lines not moving.”
“What do you want me to do about it?” he said as he swatted away a limp ear that had fallen in front of his face.
And the line didn’t move, for what felt like hours. But hours is what we had for trade. We finally got our soup, and the warm respite from the harsh environment was exactly what we needed.
As the time ticked on, the sun began to appear on the horizon, and we rode over to the stage for the event we’d stayed up all night to partake in.
People were riding up from all directions, the sun as their guide, telling them it’s time. The DJ stepped up behind the mixer and a hushed anticipation swept over the crowd. Then, with a single dramatic button click, he dropped the beat.
UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ
UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ
Oh my fucking god kill me. It’s sunrise. SUNRISE. Sunrise is a time where soft golden rays of warm light begin to soak the earth. Birds wake and their melodic chirping decorates the air. Mice scamper. Brooks babble. Lightly, gracefully, delicately the world comes alive.
I pictured frolicking. Me and this other bunny dancing hand in hand across the great expanse, a rainbow sunrise opening up over the mountains in front of us.
And instead I got the untz. The bass was atrociously loud and demanding. With every forceful beat, it hit my skull like a hammer, and it chipped away part of my soul. I’ve never understood the untz, and the repetitive, robotic, inhospitable feeling it gives me in the pit of my stomach.
UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ
I looked around to see hollow people. Eyes glazed over. Bobbing, aimlessly, expressionlessly. They looked like I felt. Hungry, cold, alone and a little bit angry. And I thought to myself, isn’t this supposed to be fun? Isn’t this supposed to be beautiful?
We discover that this matrix of our mind is well developed, old and worn, and not as within our control as we’d like. Random stimuli are triggering decade-old paths. A song from that middle school dance-where-he-didn’t-like-you back brings tears, a snide email remark sends us spiraling and eradicates our self worth, and the same dysfunctional relationship patterns rear their ugly heads time and time again. Some paths have become dangerously strong, firing at the tiniest agitation. Some paths don’t exist, because we forgot to cultivate them over the years.
The challenge of life takes on a new form. How can we see ourselves honestly? How can we understand our own mind palaces? How can we cater to and support the person we have become? Where can we develop strength, reinforce, and define our own identify? To answer these questions, we look for ways to travel backwards and access the hidden channels of our minds.
This person is made out of this complex matrix of patterns, of underdeveloped and overdeveloped neural networks, that we are surprised to find we know very little about.
Silence rolls over the crowd. A door slides open on stage, and the musicians file out one by one. As each section fills in, I’m looking for the musician in the front left of each instrument section. This is the first chair, the best player, and a highly coveted spot. The musicians shuffle their music, clean their instruments, and wait.
Exactly on time, the symphony begins and I become absorbed in the music. The Tchaikovsky piece starts out slow, soft, and ominous. One steady note at a time, the orchestra begins to swell organically. The conductor is at the helm his arms lifting with increasing energy at every bar.
A moment of silence. And then, a solo horn tip toes, beautifully, gracefully onto the soundscape.
I am transfixed by the sound, I can’t take my ears off it. As I listened to the delicate and full melody, I feel myself falling back. I fall back to the 9th grade. I remember my floor length silk black dress, how special I felt to be dressed up, to be a performer. I remember the high ceilings of the opera house, full of empty space, calling for music to fill it. The feeling of anticipation and nerves and excitement looking out at the auditorium of people, waiting for our performance. I remember flipping my horn upside down to drain the split. And I remember the brassy taste as I lifted the French horn to my lips. And as gracefully as I could muster, tiptoed into my horn solo.
As I sit in this symphony hall, recalling my own experience, I’m surprised by how vividly the memories come back. The person I was back then feels distant, buried, but also, so critically me. A decade later, and I can still feel this old me inside of me, and I know that understanding her is key to understanding me.